Valley View:If This Is Chaos, it Must Be the Airport

I always get busted at the airport. I am security's answer to the anti-profile: Not young, male, dark, possibly of Middle-Eastern descent, possibly scowling (or smiling, thinking about all those nubile virgins waiting for me in heaven if I succeed in a pyrotechnic's wet dream).

So I get pulled aside, and being pro heightened airport security, it's a grateful nuisance. Who knows? I could be the one very, very cross PTA mommy.

The first time I was pulled over by security many years ago, my husband and I were homeward bound from Rome, Italy.

We arrived at the airport to find out that our flight had been delayed due to a pilots' strike. Not to worry, we were told. They'll be back on the job in a couple of hours.

Four hours.

Six hours.

Six hours is a long time to wander around Rome's airport with no end in sight, when suddenly — we were boarding!

There had been fellows in army gear with automatic weapons and bi-HIG German shepherds (whom they could barely restrain) poking around at those of us in the waiting area.

The guards eyed us suspiciously. They eyed our carry-ons suspiciously. They eyed the walls suspiciously. They eyed each other suspiciously.

As my husband and I trudged down the jet way to the plane, we were stopped by a mini-gauntlet for inspection.

We passed. Years later, I flunked shamefully after 9/11. I was busted for carrying a Swiss army knife on my key-chain.

Seriously dumb on my part, and somewhere I know … there's a huge vault of potentially dangerous stuff secreted at every airport. The next time I got busted it was for cuticle nippers. Not scissors, mind you, but those tiny things that look kind of like pliers except when closed, they clip hangnails with their curved 1/8" blades.

OK, fine — my cuticles weren't that bad — I'd just do my on-plane manicure anyway (as I have for years). Then a quick-acting stewardess ripped into me for opening nail polish that had fumes which might be toxic to other passengers.

I just looked at her stupidly while she stared back with an expression that confirmed my idiocy. Mind you, this happened before the whole liquid explosives scare, which nearly brings me to the present.

First though, a quick detour back to the time when my husband, my (then adolescent) daughter and I were ALL busted at Tucson International Airport. There is something endearing about an airport which can boast "international" status because they fly to Mexico. At any rate, as we three passed through the metal detector gateway, each of us managed to set off alarms. And rightfully so.

My daughter carried her school backpack and had a pair of scissors in her pencil zip bag. "You know you're not supposed to carry on scissors!" I reprimanded her as the offending weapon was removed. Then they found nail scissors in MY purse and slime poured down my face. The guard who had just heard my exasperated mother-to-daughter comment looked at me sympathetically with an expression that said, "You're too stupid to live, aren't you?"

My husband, meanwhile, stood ready to pass through the metal detector with a somewhat smug expression — no scissors on him! He set off the detector anyway. Steel toes in his boots, hah. By now there was a small, backed up crowd behind us watching curiously as we and our carry-ons were most thoroughly searched. I could almost hear them thinking, "Gee, they sure look like white bread (duller than paste) — guess you can never tell."

Which brings me up to date with my Labor Day reservation for a flight to Phoenix out of Burbank (now Bob Hope!) Airport. I asked the gal who took my reservation on the phone, "Please tell me now — what are the new security restrictions regarding carry-ons?" Turns out cuticle nippers are back on the approved list, but anything liquid is out (two strikes against nail polish). Good thing I asked, because avoiding the news as I do, I had also avoided that handy bit of information.

No liquids meant my habitual bottle of water would equal a security breach, as would — lip gloss? The reservations operator assured me I would be hydrated on the plane. When I arrived at the airport, I looked security square in the eye with a cheerfully resigned "take me" expression, certain I'd goofed with something, somehow, somewhere in my carry-ons. They yawned and waved me through. Wow! I felt momentarily confused, dazed.

The fellow ahead of me, however, was raising a ruckus as they rooted through his bag. In short order they found two, large tubes of what appeared to be hair gel, a can of shaving gel, a pump-style dispenser and a boxed bottle of what looked like very fancy cologne (the type that's $300 per half ounce). My first unkind thought was, "Hey, buddy, give it up. Those cosmetics are NOT doing you any good."

He continued to alternately complain and threaten, long and loud (to whom exactly does one report security to, as he repeatedly threatened). My second unkind thought was, "Get with the program and SHUT UP!" After he finally did, still grumbling, I stepped aside to the station where he had been detained and told the guards, "I want you to know, the rest of us think you're doing a great job and we're glad you're here."

The three guards (army types) looked surprised and one of them told me with tired eyes, "Thank you. We don't hear that often enough." I bet they don't.

I've been snagged by metal detectors, wanded (that's when you stand with legs and arms apart while some sort of meter is waved all over you) and also been patted down by a female guard. I had to wait a while on that one, as she was otherwise patting away. I laughed and told the male guard, "Hey, I really don't care. Go ahead and do what you need to." He explained to me that post Diana Ross, nobody was going to touch me except another woman, and then only with my explicit permission regarding explicit body parts.

I grew up mostly abroad and have traveled a zillion air miles since birth. A lot has changed in half a century regarding air travel, pretty much for the worse from my perspective. But I don't begrudge heightened airport security, I applaud it. It is an unhappy sign of the times, but allows me to safely board flights such as this last one to Phoenix, where I am currently visiting family and friends.

Perhaps my sanity is in question, after all, because I know what many of you must be thinking: "She's vacationing in Arizona in September? She IS a crazy PTA mom." And then there was something shocking I discovered after arriving in Arizona. True story: There was my new little Swiss army knife dangling on my key ring in my purse, just as it was when I sailed through security at Bob Hope Airport.

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